How it started…

How it started…

Fifteen years ago, this week, (Stephen Heppell) and I had a dream to change education, from the focus on new PFI and BSF buildings to empowering teachers to engage learners by using technology to deliver learning and digital skills. The school system had been difficult for many, who sought vocational, creative, or new industries, whilst they were put through a system that weeded out those that were not ready for higher education.

 

In 2007, Learning Possibilities was born. A social enterprise that looked for ways to engage those ‘at the back of the class’, and those that dreamt of running a small company building websites. For a company with big ambitions, we certainly have achieved big things! We estimate that in the past 15 years over 4m learners in the UK have used our technology; including those in Wales, Wolverhampton, and Northampton.

 

The last two years have borne out our vision. If schools had adopted learning and collaboration technology, and teachers had developed the skills for hybrid and blended learning, we may have seen less learning loss during the pandemic. Worldwide the situation has been compounded by geographical and infrastructural challenges. Today we are working with schools, governments, and funders in twelve countries to look at the technology that has efficacy, teacher development that will focus on the available tech, rather than the best tech, and vocational training. Technology has moved from being a tool in the classroom to the means of nurturing and delivering learning and assessment. The possibilities have become brighter for the learner and for education.

 

Happy 15th Birthday Learning Possibilities …!

Building a social enterprise – a Founder’s view

I was excited to have been recently interviewed by the London Law Collective, on my inspirations, successes and challenges in founding Learning Possibilities, a social enterprise, and advice I would offer to others. You can see the interview on their website.

How do we think about data

At Learning Possibilities we have handled data for millions of young people. Protecting learner data was paramount in the design of the LP+365 platform, and continues to be our #1 focus area. Our initial selection of a Tier 4 data centre, and subsequently the Microsoft Azure Cloud were based predominantly on security considerations.

Today, we continue to embed data security and access management into our platform. This includes data sovereignty to ensure that the location of the data, even within the cloud, is guaranteed.

We ensure that the data is encrypted at every level, and with strong identity management, access is limited to appropriate functionality and resources. Every user has an individual login ID and password which provides access to the platform. This can be strengthen by adding multi factor authentication.

Every system that has human interfaces also has potential vulnerabilities. However, our tiered approach is designed to minimise these, to ensure the safety and security of our learners, whilst they benefit from our learning and collaboration platforms.

LPPlus365 Design

In initially designing LP+365, we took our inspiration from many places. In this blog I wanted to share some of our thoughts during this process.

Firstly I have been a long term user of the iPhone. I see from my own experience, as well as those of other iPhone users, that they use their iPhones for long periods during the day. However, not all iPhone users have the same apps on their phone. Its this ability to select the apps that you want that makes us heavy iPhone users. From an app perspective we all use different apps, but from a phone perspective we are heavy phone users.

Similarly we wanted to ensure high levels of adoption of the LP+365 platform and so we designed it with a selection of tools, rather than a process for teaching. Therefore you will find in LP+365 that there are many ways to do most tasks, and we let the teacher select the tool that suits them. For example, an assignment may be set on the Quiz tool, Assignment tool, Class Notebook, or as an emailed Word Document. A teacher will select the tool that is most appropriate, perhaps based on the tool’s features, or the devices and connectivity available, their own IT-confidence etc. They are not limited to a process, or a single tool. In this way each teacher will use the tools they want, but the app itself sees heavy and regular usage.

Secondly of all the apps on my iPhone, I probably use ‘WhatsApp’ most frequently. I have never had to learn how to use this app, and I find that new features are both instinctive and simple to use. I see that even my mother, who has little experience of technology, has mastered it. We wanted to make LP+365 similarly simple and so all the tools are presented in simple tiles. In addition all features are simplified, with 1 minute – ‘how to’ videos added to each tile, and a selection of languages to use them. Many teachers tell us that as soon as they have mastered one tile, they are able to use the other without formal training.

Does it work? In practice, we see even in very large deployments that more than 90% of schools use LP+365 regularly, and as a result evidence shows that learners gain key digital skills.

We are delighted to announce that our CEO, Mehool Sanghrajka, is featured in this month’s K12 Digest. You can read his full article here.

Q&A

If you missed the Microsoft Webinar today, or simply want to review the contents, then welcome to our blog!

The full webinar can be found here.

During the webinar, we had a number of questions which we have answered below. If you have other questions, please contact us.

Q. Is the LP+365 platform free or paid?

A. LP is a cloud based subscription platform. During COVID19, we are currently offering schools the App for free. (Until September).

Q. How can I install LP+365 in my school?

A. Please visit our COVID offer page or contact us.

Q. Does LP+365 work on all browsers, including tablets and mobiles?

A. Yes, LP+365 works on all devices, including tablets and mobiles and supports modern browsers including Edge, IE, Firefox, Chrome, Safari etc.

Q. In remote areas can it be used offline?

A. Yes, LP+365 allows you to synchronise your files, notes, mail, calendars to be used offline. It will re-sync your changes when you are next online. We are currently working to expand this function.

Q. Does LP+365 support my language?

A. The user can select a language for his/her interface at any time from the languages available. If your language is not present, we can usually add it in a short time.

Q. Is this platform appropriate for four to seven-year old children?

A. Yes, the platform is designed to be used by students of all ages. We have seen learners from age 4, all the way to University.

Q. Do we need to sign up individually or through our school admin?

A. LP+365 works with a school’s Office 365 tenancy. The school therefore has to register and the portal will be accessible to all teachers and students at the school.

Q. Is this accessible if you have already your Microsoft account?

A. Yes, as long as the Microsoft account is through your school or college, you can register here.

Q. How can we teach pupils who are living in a far flung places?

A. LP+365 can be used to delivery resources to your class, manage assignments and start collaborative projects. Online classes can also be delivered using the integrated Teams and Skype functions.

Q. Are any certain Office 365 plans required to run this platform?

A. LP+365 works with all Office 365 educational plans, both free and paid.

Q. Is there an in depth demo of LP+365 available?

A. Please see the link to the Microsoft webinar above.  In addition, our training videos explain every aspect of the LP+365 platform and can be viewed here.

Q. Can the platform be used for adult students?

A. Yes, the platform can be used by colleges, universities and vocational training colleges.

Q. How is the data submitted online safeguarded and not prone to hacking?

A. All data is encrypted at rest and in transit, using several strong encryption protocols, and technologies that include Transport Layer Security/Secure Sockets Layer (TLS/SSL), Internet Protocol Security (IPSec), and Advanced Encryption Standard (AES).

Q. How is Teams integrated within LP+365?

A. Teams in LP+365 offers teachers a virtual staffroom where they can communicate and collaborate. Teams also allows teachers the ability to have online classes.

Q. Can we set different types of assessments/assignments and also choose which students they go to?

A. Yes, the assignment tool allows you to set both formative and summative work, in many different formats, for individual students or the whole class.

The-New-Handshake

This week’s announcement by Cambridge University that it will conduct classes online only for the 2020-21 academic year is significant as it signals the real timelines for this pandemic. Most of us have been living with the hope that by the summer, or September at the latest, we will be back to the ‘old normal’ that we knew at the start of this year. What Cambridge’s announcement does is move this timeline from weeks and months, to years.

The ‘new normal’, as its now widely being called, is a radical departure which will dictate our lives for many years. Until there is a viable treatment for this pandemic, social distancing and face masks/gloves will remain the norm, which means schools and colleges will have to learn to operate in new ways.

I suspect Cambridge’s announcement also took into account the inability for international students (on whom British Universities have built their economic models) to travel to the UK. Just how other industries that will find social distancing difficult (travel, hospitality, retail) will now sustainably operate is still unclear.

In the first of these blogs, I discussed how EdTech may actually benefit from COVID. We have certainly seen a dramatic increase in the number of countries discussing possible platform solutions. The biggest change over the discussions of last 20 years is that everyone now understands the need for ‘elearning’, ‘learning platforms’ and ‘learning from home’.

However, most education technology today has been procured on the basis that its there to support classroom teaching. The new normal requires technology that also supports learning from home. Whilst currently most schools are using a mixture of free tools and resources to continue supporting learning, these will need to be replaced, as I discussed in my second COVID blog, with long term solutions. Focus has therefore shifted to the large platform providers – Microsoft and Google.

In any case, whilst we have the global issues of population growth, environmental destruction and rising temperatures; as well as the social issues of growing human inequality, inhumane farming methods and regional conflicts, it seems to be very possible that such pandemics will also sadly become the norm.

As schools choose to open over the next few months, I think there are already some indicators of the direction we all need to take. I have listed my five below;

1. Firstly, schools will have to develop hybrid models for many months or even years. A combination of learn at home with some face-to-face teaching.

2. Secondly, this means that teachers will need support to become more familiar with technology, and in teaching learners remotely.

3. Thirdly digital skills will become even more critical; not just for learning from home, but in the new economy where working from home will also become the norm.

4. Fourth our exam systems, which were the first casualty, early in this pandemic, are unlikely to survive the pandemic and will need to be reevaluated.

5. Lastly, focus in education will move towards platforms, content, devices and connectivity as governments consider how to support all their learners.

Microsoft Webinar

In this Microsoft webinar we are thrilled to announce that our CEO Mehool Sanghrajka will be discussing how education technology can enhance education in this ‘new normal’. Mehool commented, “Schools and colleges will not be fully open for months, and whilst many of them have put together a collection of resources, they need to consider their long-term strategies.”

If you missed this webinar and Q&A, you can see it here.

Covid-offer-post

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in thousands of schools being shut and millions of children having their education disrupted. At Learning Possibilities we are keen to support schools during this difficult time, and together with Microsoft are now offering schools free LP+365 licenses until September 2020.

We know many schools have started to look at how they can provide remote learning using an eclectic mix of software for video conferencing, resource distribution and setting assignments. LP+365 works with Microsoft technology to deliver all this and more using an easy to learn dashboard whilst managing all the sensitive data securely.

“At Learning Possibilities we wanted to support schools at this difficult time. We appreciate that teaching and learning remotely is difficult, and many schools were not prepared for this pandemic. Our experience shows that LP+365 helps with both remote learning and parental engagement.   We are delighted to be working with Microsoft to make our platform available for free until September”, said Mehool Sanghrajka, CEO.

The offer for free LP+365 licences is available to schools with Microsoft Office365 tenancy (which is also available free to qualifying schools)  until 1 September 2020.

To learn more about the LP+365 Learning Platform, click here.

To apply for this offer, click here.

Another week of the COVID 19 virus has passed and for many teachers, and employees, remote teaching/working is now a reality, and likely to stay for the long(er) term.

Many schools and universities are desperately applying ‘sticking plaster’ to their hastily compiled remote learning strategies with a mixture of free digital services and content. Whilst this may do the job until schools reopen, the #CoronaVirus should be a wakeup call as it continues to demonstrate our vulnerabilities.

Once schools return, many Heads will start looking at long term solutions. Whilst there are many free digital solutions on the market (#Microsoft #Office365, #Google #Classroom etc.), there is a need in schools for wider considerations.

It thought it would be useful to list my top five below.

1.    Data Security

Security of learner data is paramount, regardless of the solution. Wherever your data come from (SIS, MIS, LIS, spreadsheets, databases etc), it needs to work seamlessly with your digital platforms, providing learners with correct access to classes and the right user privileges. Equally important is where your platform data is stored. Do you know who has access to it? Can it be used by others for marketing or advertising? Does it meet legal and other security requirements?

2.    Which platform should I choose?

There are many digital platforms, it is important to pick the right one. Distance teaching and learning is one of many potential uses. Content management, assignments, collaborative projects, testing and communications are some of the many functions of a good integrated platform. It should also consider local needs with multiple languages, interfaces for different ages, strategies for poor connectivity (or offline learning) and ease of use for the teacher. It’s important to build CPD strategies and develop areas that are important to your school and appropriate for your infrastructure.

3.    Efficacy

Until the Corona Virus outbreak shut schools, remote teaching (in most schools) had been largely a theoretical phenomenon. Schools saw clear benefits in learners accessing work from home, submitting assignments or contributing to projects, but these were largely supplemental to the work that happened in class. A good solution must have proven efficacy, be easy to use and give the teacher a range of tools to suit different teaching styles. This will encourage both platform adoption and skilling-up for teachers.

4.    Stakeholders

Apart from the teachers and learners, there are many other important stakeholders. Direction from the leadership is critical for any digital project to succeed, let alone one that needs fundamental change management. This should be at government, regional and school level. Equally important is the training and support teachers receive, as well as the availability of devices and connectivity.

5.    Hurdles

In my experience, all digital projects face similar hurdles. Policy funding is usually critical, as it an understanding of ongoing funding requirements. Likewise there has always been unjustified fear that technology will replace teachers.

At this time, many schools are focused on completing the academic year with whatever resources and platforms they can use. That is important. But in the longer term, a clear strategy and plan will be invaluable.

The author is Founder and CEO of #EdTech business Learning Possibilities which provides the #LP+365 platform. Please contact us if you need advice, help or support.